As Google put thousands of public domain books online Thursday, Amazon.com responded by announcing plans to allow people to read books on the Web.
Meanwhile, Random House, the world's largest publisher of trade books, said it had come up with a business model for allowing people to pay to view its books on the Internet.
Amazon's new "Amazon Pages" program will let people purchase online access to anywhere from a few pages of a book to an entire work. The e-commerce company also announced a program called "Amazon Upgrade" that will let customers pay extra to be able to access books electronically that they've had shipped to them in printed form.
"Buy a cookbook and you will not only have it on your shelf, but also be able to access it anywhere via the Web," Amazon said in a statement.
Amazon plans to launch the services next year, CEO Jeff Bezos told CNET News.com. He declined to be more specific about the date.
As for pricing, he said he expects customers will end up paying a few cents per page for online access, or "a small incremental charge above the price of the book" for online access to books they purchase in hard copy.
"Ultimately publishers and copyright holders will get to make those decisions about how much those pages cost," as well as decide whether the books will permit customers to cut and paste, or print them, Bezos said.
As with Amazon's existing "Search Inside the Book" feature, only books in the public domain or whose copyright holders have granted permission will be included in the new digital book programs, he said. That will help the company avoid the copyright concerns Google's project has sparked.
One of every two books sold on Amazon allows for searching inside it. "We see about an 8 percent lift (in sales) when a book goes into the Search Inside the Book" service, he said.
In what could be the first step toward major publishers offering their works online, Random House said it will negotiate separate agreements with online booksellers, search engines, entertainment portals and others to offer the contents of its books to consumers for online viewing on a pay-per-page basis.
Random House books will be available for full indexing, search and display, with up to 5 percent of the book available as free sample page views, but the books will not be able to be downloaded, printed or copied, the company said in a statement.
Vendors will pay Random House four cents per page for every page beyond the free sample, for an initial range of fiction and narrative nonfiction titles, the publisher said. Though vendors will set prices for consumers, Random House said a pricing example could be 99 cents to view 20 pages.
Different types of content will have different prices. "For example, a cookbook might cost 25 cents per page view--or 99 cents for four pages--and have a different sampling threshold," Random House said.
Payments could be collected by vendors via a customer-by-customer micropayment process, or in larger amounts from institutions or companies on behalf of their customers, the publisher said.
"We believe that it is important for publishers to be innovative in providing digital options for consumers to access our content, especially in light of the emergence of ubiquitous Internet access and improved display technologies that can support sustained reading," said Random House President Richard Sarnoff.
Book publishers have been slow to embrace Internet distribution, fearing that until secure technologies and pricing models are in place, their copyright works will be freely disseminated, as online music has been.
Pioneering online bookseller Amazon paved the way for book digitization when it launched its "Search Inside the Book" feature two years ago, allowing people to use keywords to search text inside books. Since then, the debate over how to protect copyright while offering electronic versions of texts has neared a crescendo.
The volume exploded when Google ="5489921">launched its Google Print Library Project late last year, saying it would digitize and make searchable online texts from the university library collections at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford and the New York Public Library.
That prompted the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to sue the search behemoth, claiming that scanning entire copyright works violates copyright law. Google denies that, saying its planned use of the works, including displaying only a snippet of a book still under copyright, is allowed under the "fair use" provision of the copyright law.
Google rival Yahoo is working with the Internet Archive on a competing book digitization project, which Microsoft's MSN joined last week. That effort avoids the sticky copyright debate by restricting the search capabilities to books that are in the public domain, unless the copyright holder gives permission.
Another big difference between the competing library scanning projects is that Google's database will be searchable only by Google's search engine, while the Internet Archive project will be open to any search engine.
Many public domain books have been available online for years by way of efforts such as Project Gutenberg.
Google praised the news from Amazon and Random House.
"Amazon is a valuable partner, and we link to Amazon so people can buy books they've found with Google Print. We're glad our users will have additional ways to access the books they've found using Google Print," Google said in a statement. "Google Print is exploring new access models to help authors and publishers sell more books online, but we don't have anything to announce."
Regarding Random House, Google said: "We support efforts to make offline information more accessible online. Initiatives like these highlight the value of services such as Google Print that enable users to discover and purchase books in new ways."
Google had halted the library book scanning in August to give copyright holders time to contact Google and opt out. It was scheduled to resume on Nov. 1, but had not, said Google spokesman Nate Tyler. "We're getting to it. It's an operational thing."
The scanning will resume "soon," he said, declining to be more specific. Workers will start with older parts of the library collections, which tend to include more public domain and out-of-print books than books still under copyright, Tyler said.